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How to Clean Paint Brushes in 5 Easy Steps

Estimated Reading Time: 5 min

Get the maximum return on your investment in high-quality brushes by washing them the right way.

Cost
Skill Level
Beginner
Approximate Time 10-20 minutes
plus 24 hours drying time

When using paint to freshen up your home, it can be tempting to buy cheap, mediocre brushes to get the job done, but don’t let the low cost fool you. Cheap brushes often leave behind bristles, brush strokes, patchy walls, and by the time you finish painting, your tool looks more haggard than you do. Investing in high-quality paint tools makes all the difference in the world. Applications are smooth and you end up saving time and money when you clean, store, and reuse them for your next project.

Here's what you'll need:

Materials
  • Mild Liquid Dish Soap (water-based paint)
  • Mineral Spirits/Turpentine/Paint Thinner (oil-based paint)
  • Newspaper
Tools
  • Two Small Buckets
  • Paintbrush Comb
  • Brush-and-Roller Spinner or Clean Rags
For Your Safety
  • Chemical-resistant Rubber Gloves

Step 1

Reclaim Excess Paint from Your Brush

reclaim excess paint

It’s always easier to clean your paint tools immediately after you’ve finished with them, so before your paintbrush dries completely, begin by scraping your brush against the inside rim of your paint can to remove the bulk of the paint lurking deep within your brush.

Pro Tip

With a less saturated brush, give your project another once over. If you notice any thin spots of paint, now is the best time to fix them!

Repeat the scraping process until you no longer have large amounts of paint dripping back into the can, then paint away the remainder onto newsprint.

The goal is to remove as much paint from the bristles as possible before washing them to make the process faster, easier, and less messy overall.

Step 2

Wash the Brush in the Proper Solvent

fill bucket with proper solvent

Once most of the paint is cleared away, halfway fill your small buckets (this will save on water) with one of the following solvents:

For latex paint—Use hot water and mild liquid dish soap.

For oil paint—Use mineral spirits, paint thinner, or turpentine following manufacturer recommendations (these are typically found on the label of your paint can).

Caution

Mineral spirits, paint thinner, and turpentine emit strong fumes and are flammable, so always use with caution and work in a highly ventilated area, preferably outdoors. You should also take care to wear safety goggles and chemical-resistant gloves when handling these products.

In the first bucket, stir the solvent with your brush for about 10 seconds (this will loosen up any dried and stuck on paint), then press the bristles against the side of the container to squeeze out the remaining paint. As you go, work the bristles between your fingers, swirl in your palm, and use a brush comb to gently remove paint without damaging the bristles.

wash latex paint using warm soapy water

Once the bucket is more the color of your paint than clear, blot your brush on fresh sheets of newsprint and switch to your second bucket of clean solvent to squeeze and comb out any remaining paint residue.

When removing oil-based paints, work the bristles in the solvent for at least two minutes.

Then use a brush-and-roller spinner (for no more than 10 seconds) or gently blot the brush dry with clean rags or paper towel before moving onto the next step.

Pro Tip

Save money by reclaiming and reusing your oil paint solvent. Simply allow the paint solids to settle at the bottom of your bucket, then pour the (relatively) clean solvent into a separate sealable bottle. Clearly label your bottle before storing in a dry area away from hazards and save for reuse.

Step 3 

Rinse, Wash, and Repeat

rinse brush with bristles down

Rinse the brush under warm running water using a dollop of mild dish soap.

Swirl the brush in the palm of your hand for one minute to suds up the bristles, brush through with a comb, and rinse the paintbrush until the water runs clean.

Pro Tip

Before rinsing paint thinner/ turpentine/mineral spirits from your brush, use a few sheets of newspaper to paint away most of the remaining solvent.

The biggest mistake painter’s make during this step is putting their brushes directly under running water with the bristles pointed up or leaving them to soak. Doing either of these things twists the bristles and puts unnecessary amounts of water inside the brush, effectively ruining it. Always keep the bristles pointed down when cleaning your brushes.

Repeat the solvent/rinsing process as needed to remove all paint residue.

Step 4

Spin, Shake, or Blot Your Brushes Dry

blot brushes dry

Once clean, remove excess water from bristles using a brush-and roller-spinner for 10 seconds, spinning the brush between your hands, or by blotting the brush dry with a clean rag, newspaper, or paper towel.

Step 5

Reshape Bristles and Allow Brushes to Dry Completely before Storing

reshape bristles using brush comb

Reshape the bristles by placing the brush between two fingers and gently squeezing from base to tip or briefly run a brush comb through the bristles to straighten and taper them to their original shape.

Finally, store your paintbrushes in their original packaging to ensure they maintain their shape for years to come. Alternatively, if you no longer have the packaging, you can wrap the brush with heavy brown paper and tie it loosely with string to achieve the same results.

After they’re completely dry, hanging your brushes on a thin rod or a workshop pegboard is a great way to organize your tools while ensuring that their bristles don’t get bent out of shape locked away in a tote, bin, or toolbox drawer.

Conclusion

store paint tools to dry after use

With these 5 easy steps, your investment in high-quality brushes is already paying for itself. Not only do you have smoother, beautifully pigmented walls, now you’ll be able to reuse the brushes that helped you achieve that quality finish for years to come.

But before you put everything away, don’t forget to wash your rollers and trays!

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